An interview with President of the Liberal Party Vlado Gotovac
Central Europe Review: In one of your recent interviews, you said that the time had still not come for what you wanted to achieve. What exactly did you have in mind?
Vlado Gotovac: I had in mind something that we in the East have not managed to achieve: a general change of the intellectual, as well as political, state of affairs. The conviction that the break with totalitarianism was something that could automatically be transformed into freedom [and] civil society is an entirely wrong conviction. It is a long and tiresome process, which has to completely change the mental structure of the society… The individual was, for more than 50 years, eliminated from the political and public sphere… Individual freedom is actually the only measurement of real freedom. In order for these values to return, a very long time is needed.
We acted very gullibly and such behaviour continues, especially in politics. That such a high trust was placed in pragmatic politics is actually an astonishing fact. However, if the roots of such pragmatism are investigated, it can be observed that it is actually a way to escape from the past and responsibility for that past. This pragmatism actually presupposes a type of politics that is not held responsible for anything. It has a program of democratisation, establishment of a modern market economy and accepts the standard values of Western societies in the spheres of economy and day-to-day politics; however, we have still not come to terms with the things that go beyond that, such as the real relationship between liberalism and any type of collectivism, the real relationship between liberal democracy and democracy, the real questions of philosophical character. For instance, what happened to nihilism, which suddenly disappeared from the scene, although it was never proven that it left the foundations of our society and would no longer act as a destructive and dramatic invitation to question the values by which we live?
We are facing the very unpredictable [features] of globalisation. All the problems of the unification of Europe are not as easy [to solve] as it was once thought. We are now witnessing a dramatic means of questioning authenticity (whether national, regional or even individual), what is its reach and how to treat it. All these problems in their present form, which I sometimes call “an overarching European bricolage,” act as our only politics and our only spiritual presence. That is why I believe that the real job is not yet finished and that the tasks, in this respect, are still ahead of us.
CER: All of Europe is talking about transition. Is it not fascinating that in the Croatian political discourse of the past decade this word was virtually absent? Late President Tuđman hardly ever mentioned the word “transition,” and when he did, he did so just to emphasise that Croatia was the most successful country in transition. Why the escape from transition?
Gotovac: Escape from transition is escape from all those everyday problems that our concept of the change of the East European world brings. If you acknowledge the transition, you must accept a process that is obviously long and in which you then cannot be what Tuđman actually was. [Transition] is a process that is unchecked, and you have to accept that in such an unchecked process the position of a person or program is only relative. Tuđman was authoritarian, and he believed that his decisions were in no way relative. He believed they were correct, definitive and not transitional…
It is then a matter of course that someone who sees politics in this way does not speak about transition with ease and is even less willing to accept its problematic nature. I believe that transition is often taken very lightly. It appears that neither us nor the West were able to comprehend what was about to happen.
CER: Let us talk about the late President as an intellectual rather than a politician. Have you read Tuđman?
Gotovac: I had to read some of his extensive texts, because I was obligated to do so. Namely, I knew him for more than 40 years; on certain occasions, he wanted to hear my opinion of his texts. I was, in a way, forced to be his private reviewer. I was fortunate enough to receive one of his texts, which I considered almost a joke. It was his text on the philosophy of history. While reviewing it, a big conflict arose between us, after which he never gave me his texts to review. Since then, I have not read Tuđman.
CER: In the 1989 version of his book Bespuća, Tuđman paraphrases one of Murphy’s laws: “Nations and men will act rationally, only when they exhaust all other possibilities.”
Gotovac: That is evidently nonsense. Tuđman’s conviction that irrationality is the basis of all our acts and that in this irrationality only important persons such as himself can rationally formulate irrational facts constantly dominated his person and was the source of his character. In other words, his character was authoritarian and all his theories were adapted to fit that character.
…As a theoretician, he was not very talented. He was actually incapable of continuous theoretical thinking and lived in small fragments that he was collecting, much as provincial wise-guys often collect statements and make private collections of “important ideas.” For him, it was completely understandable that in his “coherent understanding of history” you can find entirely opposite positions and views of history. He thought that it is absolutely irrelevant what Levi-Strauss thinks, what Hegel thinks, and what Kant thinks on that subject. The only thing he cared about is that all of them accepted that this question exists. He then drew the conclusion that he is entitled to say what he wants to say.
CER: It was fascinating to read a short while ago the transcript of Tuđman’s talks with one of his former advisors, Ivić Pašalić, for two reasons: President Tuđman’s sentences were, namely, fully incoherent…
Gotovac: His sentences were always incoherent. He talked more in an anecdotal way. If he was talking about an event, or a series of events that were linked in some definite way, then he was able to talk coherently. [But] every attempt at long rational discourse was impossible for him.
CER: In that conversation Tuđman told Pašalić that the publishing of Hrvatski obzor weekly should be supported despite large financial problems, because “it would remain in libraries.” Does that not show that Tuđman was not so much obsessed with power but, in a much more complex way, with history and his role in it?
Gotovac: Tuđman was absolutely convinced that he had a historic mission… I know that from my private conversations with him. He believed very much in the value of historical data and writings that register that someone existed in history and that one accomplished something in it. This need to remain in history is a need that comes from his character. He was never able to accept the fact that he was immortal. Not in some metaphysical sense but in the literal meaning of that word. He thought that it was a great misfortune that he had not existed before and that one day he will not exist any more. He was deeply convinced that the nation needs him and that without him some tasks could not be accomplished. He wanted to live as long as possible, in order to do important work. Even the not so important tasks had to be registered, as well as those he indirectly influenced. That, of course, will be preserved in archives. That panoramic picture of his presence, he thought, was equivalent to contemporary Croatian history.
CER: Let us move on to a partially related topic: the role and position of Croatian intellectuals. Is it not good that after a long period, those in power in Croatia (President of the Republic, Prime Minister, etc) are people who do not pretend to be exceptional intellectuals?
Gotovac: We are a nation that in the course of history linked intellectual and politician, mainly due to Croatia’s specific position throughout history and within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It often happened that our people institutionally represented some other spiritual and political power. The tradition is that these people must be intellectuals in the contemporary meaning of that word, or at least people who are enlightened and whose role is known to everyone (such as Ivan Mažuranić or Strossmayer). Even in the Sabor [Parliament, ed], if you look through the archives, the speeches that were held there were written by writers and have literary value. The literarisation of history and politics has been very important in Croatia.
Now that Croatia has started functioning as a real state, when politics, in its usual meaning, is needed, when it means managing the state, when one has to take care of interests that enable the survival of the state in the framework of the modern world, this nostalgia for enlightened (and possibly even real intellectual) politicians is still present. The fact, however, that it is slowly diminishing is proof that in Croatia politics has become banalised. That means that it encompasses a specific type of job, which does not require special intellectual endowment but rather the skill of managing the state.
The current President of the Republic is an excellent example of that. He is a person who has not forgotten the values of the world in which we live and is most certainly loyal to them. However, he is something that I would boldly call a “political animal.” He is a person who really feels what politics is, here and now.
CER: At the last joint meeting of the Croatian Social-Liberal Party (HSLS), before you and your colleagues left it and established another party, you said: “Politics is a question of morality.” Your colleague Vesna Pusić stated recently in an interview something to the effect of “politics is a question of organisation, of management.” At first glance these are two quite different definitions of politics. However, Ms Pusić’s party (HNS – Croatian People’s Party) and your party (LS – Liberal Party) are co-operating very closely and even speaking of unification. Can these two views of politics be reconciled?
Gotovac: The definition given by Ms Pusić is a definition that speaks about the means by which politics is carried out nowadays. She believes that no matter what the concepts, sources and objectives of politics may be, it must be implemented by a specific technique imposed by the modern world, that is, the technique of management… However, the foundation of politics cannot be declared by anyone to be solely a matter of management. Whether some company’s management is bad or good does not put into question the quality of that company’s products.
In my case, [the statement] requires a brief clarification, both from a personal point of view as well as a political and theoretical one. I am deeply convinced that all dissidents acquired such an attitude towards politics. In the societies in which we protested we learned that morality is an extremely important and high value, without which we would not have been able to persist in doing what we were doing. Out of that lesson, that morality and freedom in totalitarian societies are closely intertwined, we learned that morality is present in every situation where fundamental questions are at stake.
The most important debates in modern philosophy start from this same standpoint. It is absolutely clear that those questions we mentioned at the beginning – how to undergo transition but at the same time prepare for a new transition defined by globalisation (resistance towards globalisation is romantic but entirely misplaced) – will always have to refer to the power of morality and the power of freedom. This link proves that politics is an important question for mankind. It is, indeed, a question of freedom… It is, therefore, understandable that we have to warn society that without healing of morality there will be no healing of society in its entirety.
CER: I read recently a study in which it was stated that violence and fear have been the key socio-political determinants of Croatian society in the last ten years. You were also a victim of violence on several occasions. Can Croatia really democratise with these two phenomena still dominating the society?
Gotovac: Of course not. Fear and democracy cannot coexist, because liberal democracy and fear are mutually exclusive. Democracy does not allow any citizen to be treated as a figure, to be repressed, so to say, statistically. The mere fact that those “others” are more numerous should not place citizen’s values and freedom into question. Of course, this brings up the great problem of protecting that freedom. When does democracy have to intervene in order to protect freedom? When can it prohibit some activity that is assessed to be dangerous? Croatian society, as long as it is filled with fear of the state or some [other] possible repression, cannot be entirely democratic. It is, therefore, necessary to support the establishment of the rule of law and develop… [the] feeling that the citizen is constantly being protected… It is a huge job and a very complicated one.
When exiting an authoritarian regime, people feel better just because of the feeling that they got rid of the sense of direct insecurity. However, then another level of repression comes along. This other level has to be eliminated. That means a civil society has to be established. Only a civil society disarms politics of its repressive contents. In Croatia, none of these questions are resolved. There are very fierce, almost wild, groups that remained after the war… Politically, they are not strong, which is fortunate, since that means they will not “educate” new members. They do not have a well-developed and relevant position. They represent the most trivial parts of the right-wing, which never managed to organise themselves completely. Although occasionally united, they are, in fact, very scattered throughout the society. However, the problem is that they can potentially join together, and that is [an] excellent [opportunity] for vast manipulation. The new authorities have to strongly oppose the attempts to take advantage of that, because their joining could be a very unpleasant component of our political life, since they represent violence.
CER: Do you think that the new authorities are working sufficiently on that? Many people say that the new authorities in a way reproduce a certain submission towards those who are perpetrators of violence, and, on the other hand, a certain inflexibility in internal debates, which may not reflect the real difference in views?
Gotovac: One thing is certain: these authorities are filled with fear from undemocratic and unjust acts. I have warned on several occasions that we must not engage in revolutionary and voluntaristic methods. I still hold that view. However, that does not mean at all that we have to hesitate. We must not hesitate in the systematic implementation of our politics, but also in the systematic elimination of all elements that link us in any way with the former authorities. This, of course, requires double the effort. We do not have enough people for such an effort; time is not our only problem.
If for nine years you speak about the nation’s chronicle of crime and if you claim that political leaders of the country are responsible for that chronicle, the new authorities have to enable the judiciary to judge that. That leaves us, however, with the burden of proof. Proof has to exist in order to prevent the occurrence of political decisions in place of judicial rulings. A revolutionary judiciary must not exist.
This creates a very unpleasant tension: the public knows that they are “thieves,” but now suddenly it hears, “we need proof of that!” People are surprised: why proof? I always laugh about it, because I recall the first trial against me, when people were asking “where is the proof [to back up the] accusations against Gotovac?”, and the president of the Communist Party at the time said: “What proof do you need to accuse the man who was accused by the Party?”
Similarly, it is believed now that it is just necessary to finish this chronicle, arrest everyone, and the story will be over. This is, needles to say, a very difficult legal situation. It is difficult politically as well. We would need a group of people who would be capable and willing to perform this huge political task and who would actually show that it is not about avoiding punishment but actually punishing by introducing the rule of law. That is actually the best sentence for a society which did not follow the rules of the Constitution.
So, on one hand, we have to act fast and efficiently to enable the functioning of the rule of law, and on the other hand, free that work from public pressure, which is entirely political. We have to explain the objectives of the new politics but also its problems. We must say that we want to achieve a fully healthy society and not just punish a group of thieves. Because it is possible to punish one group of thieves and introduce another group of thieves. So, we have to punish those who are guilty but also to create a state in which such things would not be possible again. That can be achieved only if the judiciary makes it their long-term objective. In such a system, it would never again be possible that the driver of a minister’s car and the minister himself are not equal before the law. Of course, it may happen that some people take advantage of these difficulties to create space for themselves. This is, in my view, one of the most dangerous chances for corruption and all similar phenomena of transition.
CER: It is obvious that Croatian society has a vision of politics as something alien to it, something that has to exist but something that ordinary citizens, in principle, cannot influence. What needs to be done so that politics in Croatia can be de-tabooised?
Gotovac: Every politics, including that in Croatia, has its history. Croatian politics, indeed, had a specific role in the life of the nation over the centuries. It served to prove the independence of the nation but was also in service of those who in reality ruled Croatia. From that perspective, politics is seen as something that is independent only to a certain extent and always partly belongs to someone else. This notion, in which real power is somewhere else, made the position of Croatian politicians objectively very difficult, especially in front of their own public. Politics was interpreted as serving someone else and was measured by how much it managed to do something for us while serving others.
This history, that other countries do not have, made the contents of politics in Croatia doublesided. Politics is considered at the same time to be good and bad. And that link is not always unambiguous.
…Croatians need time to learn that they now have their own politics. Of course, Croatia is involved in international politics… but even in those relations, the traditionalists and conservatives fear that Croatia might still be serving someone else or is preparing itself to become publicly subordinated, for instance, to the European Union. They are afraid of losing independence. We are exceptionally sensitive about independence and feel very insecure about it. Although many want to prove that we are very strong and will not allow certain things to happen, it is clear that if some misfortune starts that is bigger than us, we will be subject to it anyway. In the end, it is our task to teach Croatians that politics is always waged in a context of uncertainty.
CER: Your said recently, answering a question on the expectations for the new ruling coalition: “Either we will succeed or everything will fall apart. There are no others who could lead the state out of trouble.”
Gotovac: Yes. That is something very characteristic and unique for Croatia at this moment. The end of the HDZ [Tuđman’s Croatian Democratic Union, ed] dramatically destroyed the possibilities for an alternative and led to a situation in which its parliamentary deputies do not have a strong link with their party. They do not represent anyone anymore. On the other hand, they will not remain coherent. Some of them already left. In any case, they are not anyone who can take over responsibility for the state. Furthermore, they are not in a position to do that. To make deals with those right-wing factions would mean political bankruptcy. These groups can be dangerous but they are not politically strong.
So, who else can be appointed to lead the government? The President of the Republic can offer the mandate for the creation of the government only to the same people that lead the country now. Of course, that does not mean that the government cannot be restructured, but the power clearly belongs to the coalition of six parties. If we in the ruling coalition cannot take the society out of this situation, the society will collapse… This means responsibility, and there are no excuses for failure.
That is why I insist that all of us who took over this task finish it successfully. I also appeal to the nation. People cannot elect a government and cross their arms and wait and see what it will do. The government is not a magician. To elect this government means to roll up your sleeves and fasten your seatbelt, patiently endure a certain additional decrease in the standard of living and social security and then start moving ahead. If the nation is not aware of this and if it does not accept it, then the government will find itself in a similar position to the HDZ – it will be removed from society. Society will go in another direction or will simply not work on the realisation of these goals; it will betray this government.
CER: It was pretty obvious that in the beginning, the government was somewhat confused…
Gotovac: Absolutely. In addition to that, you must keep in mind that the government was established at a very bad moment, namely at the moment when it was necessary to adopt a budget. That was a stone around its neck and it not only put a halt to all other activities but also put us in a very difficult political situation, because we had to adopt a budget with which we were not satisfied. It was not only the usual problem of income and expense; the entire vision of economic development was at stake. We could implement only a small part of what we wanted to, because there was no money for anything. The elections were timed like this on purpose; it was a deliberate decision to bring Croatia to the edge of the abyss.
CER: You introduced some years ago the notion of the “Second Republic.” Is Croatia now in its Second Republic?
Gotovac: The Second Republic has now again become a topic. Almost two years ago, I said that it was high time (since I believed that the HDZ would lose the elections) that the Croatian public prepare for an entirely new Croatia, which would be created by democratic means and within a framework of politics that would ensure the creation of a liberal-democratic society. In order to be successful in that, we had to start taking action in all respects. We had to start building a new administration of the country, new relations between President, Parliament and government and so on. That meant a new Constitution. It was also supposed to newly define the internal administration of the country, the level of self-government, relations between central authorities and local authorities. Self-government should continuously grow and include as many citizens as possible. Everyone should have a feeling of participating in politics and that political decisions are depending on them. This requires building a dynamic, modern, civil society in which there will be no citizens who think that the state is something above them, alien to them. That is especially important in Croatia and is also the direction of development of modern societies.
In order to achieve that, a real national debate was necessary. I recommended such a debate – the formation of groups that would discuss and make proposals on how to build that second Croatia. The first Croatia, created by Tuđman, was centralised, authoritarian. However, my idea was not accepted at all; on the contrary, it was directly rejected. Vesna Pusić introduced the term “second transition” in order to help bypass that refusal towards my proposal. Of course, the terminology may change, but the problems still have to resolved. It is now clear how important these problems are… They of course now have a different weight, because we do not have space to discuss them in peace and in their entirety. Now some elements cause nervousness, conflicts of competencies and so on.
Although we all had the same program, we did not explain how to implement it, with what priorities, who will have which role. We have to do it now in a way that is not good. That is pragmatism of the worst possible sort. It is just filling the holes. I believe that the Second Republic will have to be created, even in this way. It will not have the overarching and unified form and substance but will have to come close to it.
We in Croatia believed that we could do it easily; the Italian example shows that it is not easy. A feeling of lightness in resolving the problem is characteristic for countries in transition and is the consequence of the light-headed belief that getting out of totalitarianism resolves all problems. That is, of course, wrong. We were not aware how much totalitarianism had become an intimate part of our survival. We were not aware of the fact that it changed us mentally. It almost killed, or left in a degenerate state, those elements necessary to live in a modern world. If you take a look at the economy, you will see that it is now extremely difficult for people to accept that all of life is a process of competition. A long time is needed for someone to understand that his freedom presupposes some decisions that he believes someone else has to take. A long time is needed for people to understand that they are the creators of their own lives, that the state is not there to give advantages to some but to ensure rights and nothing else.
Serious changes are highly unlikely until we teach people to accept that. And when we understand that, we will realise that the Second Republic is not something that can be achieved in 24 hours, with six people agreeing around the table. It is a serious and long political process, in which a modern state is created, with all the problems of the modern world.
CER: What is your vision of Croatia in the next four years and over a longer period of time?
Gotovac: It is relatively easy to make predictions for the next four years, because we know what is missing or what was done wrong. In this respect, Croatia has an obligation, if it wants to remain a member of the European family of nations, to develop a truly democratic state and its institutions. It is also important to make the economy conducive with the modern world, to foster competition and integration. Like in Ireland, Portugal and Spain, we need to create the educational foundations for such a process. We have to invest in science, as the driving force of modern development… We have to act dynamically in politics, have intense relations with our partners… and create systematic and careful approaches towards the environment, for instance, in the sphere of tourism, which is very important for us.
If we fulfil this, I am sure we will gain a bigger and bigger share in European events. At that moment, our fate will become a part of the common fate, and we have to be ready for that as well… Views of globalisation as Coca-Colaisation or McDonaldisation are sheer nonsense. We have to prepare for such a world, so that we do not act as provincial spectators in the World Theatre. The worst thing that can happen to an individual, community or nation is a feeling that the important things happen somewhere else. Heraclite said, at the dawn of our civilisation, when he was asked why he played with children, “gods reside here as well.”
One has to be aware that gods live everywhere, and that the world can start anywhere. Every place can be its centre. Christ started his road in Palestine, which was a small, undeveloped, destroyed Roman province. This virtual possibility to start something new in any place must live in every person, as part of what makes our human existence interesting. Every person who thinks that an individual is only defined by external circumstances is wrong if he forgets that the individual is much more than that, that he contains in himself something that is an entirety. Every individual has something of an Atlas in himself; he is carrying the world. If you give up on that and become provincial, that means mental suicide; it means death.
Interview conducted on 26 April 2000 by
Vol 2, No 19
15 May 2000